What To Do When Children Don’t Listen


In our previous blog we discussed the different types of listening and how these can impact on the relationship we have with our children. We also looked at the reasons behind why our children don’t always listen to us, and discovered that this can often be because they are looking for our attention. In part 2 of this series, we are going to look at what is happening when our children don’t listen to us.

A Broken Bridge

Listening to your child creates a bridge between you. When your children do not listen to you, it is because the bridge is broken. If a child feels controlled, or forced to do something, they will often resist, reject and do the opposite thing you ask. Children can literally feel the break in this connection with you and it can cause them to be very upset, sometimes because they may not be able to verbalise how they are feeling.

Fight or Flight

The break in connection is an inbuilt safety mechanism in our brain – the fight or flight mechanism – in a way, it means we are wired to oppose or run away to avoid pain.

Think about a child being given sweets by a stranger in the park. We tell our children to be wary of strangers and so when approached by a stranger we want them to resist so they will either run away or put up a fight, this will keep them safe. We as parents however, are not strangers, so why do our children resist our requests in the same way? (You can read about the fight or flight process in our blog here).

It is easy to forget that a child does not yet have the internal resources or emotional regulation to modify their behaviour. Their brain is still developing and they will develop behaviour problems just to get your attention and to feel a connection with you. Even negative attention to them is attention – they are just looking for a connection.

How effective is discipline?

Children will be more motivated to the thing that gives them pleasure; their computer game or watching TV for example, rather than doing their homework or coming down for dinner. That is, until you shout at them! When children trigger a reaction such as this, they are communicating to you that they need you to intervene.

At this point, a child needs guidance, but what do parents do?

They discipline their children! But what does discipline really mean?

In the past, and still to some extent today, when people think of discipline, they think of punishment and giving consequences. This behaviour can make a child feel helpless and imprisoned with no choice and obedience tends to be of submission, rather than willingness to cooperate. This can mean that children are not engaged, or fully understand why they are complying other than to ensure something they don’t want to happen, happens. For example “Come and put your shoes on or you can’t play on the tablet later.”

In the past when I have asked children that I have worked with how they felt when they are punished for not complying, these are some of the feelings they have shared:

  •    Hatred and the need for revenge
  •    Unworthy and have self-pity
  •    Shame or guilt
  •    They feel like they don’t deserve it
  •    Argumentative and defiant

We don’t want our children to feel this way, or to carry these feelings with them into adulthood. The latest research tells us that actually this way of disciplining can be counterproductive to learning and emotional growth.

A different way of thinking

Take a minute to think about things like this:

The root word for discipline is disciple and disciple = being a student

Therefore to discipline (should) = to teach!

If we think about what we are currently ‘teaching’ our children when we offer punishment for non-compliance, we are not helping our children understand why they need to comply with our requests. As discussed, we must teach our children by modelling our behaviour to them. In order to change the way our children react to our requests, perhaps we need to first change the negative perceptions we have of discipline. Rather than viewing discipline as punishment, instead view it as an opportunity to teach and create a more positive environment for yourself and your child.

In parts 3 and 4 of our blog series we will be looking at the 4 strategies that you can use to help you engage with your child and get them to cooperate with you and your requests in a more positive way. 

Read part 3 here.



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